Restoring Federalism: Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment

The “Restoring Honor” event at the Lincoln Memorial was inspiring. That should be just the beginning of a “Restoration Movement.” We don’t really need a revolution in America; all we need to do is restore what once was. I have a suggestion for another aspect of our Founding that needs to be restored—a suggestion that some will call unrealistic, yet one that the Founders considered essential.

Let’s restore the provision in the original wording of the Constitution that allows state legislatures to choose a state’s senators who serve in Congress.


Article I, Section 3 says, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof.”

The reasoning was lucid: the people of each state already had direct representation into the national government via the House of Representatives; it was necessary as well to provide representation for the state governments in the national Congress. The goal was to make sure that laws passed by each state were not going to be overturned by the national government without good reason.

It was one of those key checks on power; it was to provide balance in the federal system.

Why did this change?

By the early twentieth century, the progressive movement was gaining ascendancy. One of the primary tenets of the movement was to add an amendment to the Constitution allowing the people of each state to elect senators directly, just as they already did for representatives.

The argument was pretty much the following: there is too much corruption in the Senate, and the only way to ensure good government is to give the people at large the vote for senators. That will end the “evil” of state legislatures sending their favorites to Congress.

This reasoning was based on the belief that state governments usually legislated against the well-being of the people and assumed that if the people, not the state legislatures, chose the senators, they would no longer be corrupt.

Consequently, in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, shifting the choice of senators from the state legislatures to the people of the states. Now that the people choose their senators, corruption has vanished from the halls of the Senate.

Is there really anyone who believes that fantasy?

Senate Chamber

If state legislatures are corrupt, the people can change them. The maxim holds: in a representative system, the government is a reflection of the people who voted them into power. If corruption exists, the people allowed it. If the people awaken to the corruption, it will be much easier to root it out at the state level than at the national because the state government is closer to the people, and their voice can be more clearly heard.

Denying the state legislatures the choice of senators has effectively eliminated state government influence on national legislation. The senators don’t have to answer to their state governments anymore; they are elected or re-elected by the people directly. As a result, they don’t care about the interests of the state governments. They only have to pay attention if the people get aroused on an issue.

This changes the role of senators. They are now just like their counterparts in the House; the only differences are that their district is comprised of the entire state and they get to hang around for six years rather than two.

The problems go beyond theory. What about unfunded mandates? This is when Congress passes laws that require states to pay for them. Who is in the Congress to plead for the state governments and be concerned about state budgets? No one. In some respects, the state governments have become mere appendages of the national government. They have no say or recourse except to try to find relief through the courts.

Here’s another very specific consequence. The Senate has the responsibility for confirming federal judges, even to the Supreme Court. When going through the confirmation process, does any senator take into consideration how a judge’s judicial philosophy will affect state laws?

When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, forty-four state laws restricting abortion were overturned. If senators had to protect their state’s laws, as representatives of their respective legislatures, they would have been more attuned to whether the judges they placed on the Supreme Court would have the tendency to overthrow the principle of the sanctity of life.

In the past thirty-seven years, more than fifty million innocent children have lost their lives. Part of the blame should rest on the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment.

It’s time to consider the repeal of this amendment. Very few have taken up this cause. I know its repeal is not probable—but it is possible. If we can at least start the discussion, you never know where it may lead.

May the “Restoration Movement” continue to thrive.